The art of practice, the practice of art

Carol Thiel’s field sketch of Durand Lake, done last Wednesday evening. About 9X12, and about three hours from easel up to easel down. If you read yesterday’s blog entry, you know that I was amazed she could get any kind of a painting out of the scene.
This morning a young woman named Cherise Parris led worship at our church. She is the daughter of two accomplished and well-known Rochester musicians (Alvin and Debra Parris) and she’s been singing since she first drew breath. She has a powerhouse voice.
Cherise uses her voice like an extension of her own self, as a tool to express an idea. I’ve had voice lessons and I’ve sung in choirs, but I’ve never gotten past the point where I’m focused on creating a tone. On the rare occasion when I forget, I usually get a jab in the ribs and a sharp hissed “Mom!” Here’s the truth: I just don’t care enough about singing to actually practice.
There’s a meme based on Malcolm Gladwell’s “Outliers: the Story of Success” that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to make a craftsman. The number seems arbitrary to me, but there’s certainly truth to the idea that, as Thomas Edison is alleged to have said, “Genius is 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration.”
I got two pictures by email today from Carol Thiel. Carol took my workshop last October, and has since taken my classes when her work schedule permits. One painting was done before she started studying with me; one was done last Wednesday evening in my class.
A painting done by Carol Thiel last year at the Adirondack Plein Air festival, right before she took my workshop. A nice painting, but she has developed a more sophisticated palette and value structure over the past year.
“They were sitting near each other and I was struck by the difference,” she said. “Both were painted in approximately the same amount of time,” she added. “The Adirondack painting had different conditions—a very dull, cloudy day—but nowadays I would be able to see some other colors in the clouds, darken the darks, etc.”
I appreciate that Carol sees value in my instruction, but there are two parts to this. The first is good teaching, but the second is that she listens to and practices what she learns.
It takes a long time to get to the point where you use a paintbrush as an extension of yourself. I asked Sandy Quang today whether she is there yet. (She’s been studying with me on and off since she was sixteen; she’s 25 today.) “Half and half,” she answered. And I think that’s about right.
All of which reminds me of that old saw: “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” “Practice, practice, practice.”

If you want to take a workshop with me, join me in October, 2013 at Lakewatch Manor—which is selling out fast—or let me know if you’re interested in painting with me in 2014. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops! If you want to study in Rochester, drop me a line here.
Carol Douglas

About Carol Douglas

Carol L. Douglas is a painter who lives, works and teaches in Rockport, ME. Her annual workshop will again be held on the Schoodic Peninsula in beautiful Acadia National Park, from August 6-11, 2017. Visit for more information.